Christopher Duntsch, former neurosurgeon nicknamed Dr. Death, caused detriment to many unsuspecting patients. The Dallas County, Texas, practitioner was responsible for Mary Efurd’s spinal fusion in 2012. After the surgery, the 74 year old patient began complaining of extreme pain and an inability to be mobile. A few days later, Efurd underwent surgery again in an attempt to fix the issue, and upon re-examination by Dr. Robert Henderson, it was determined that Duntsch left hardware inside her soft tissue, harming one of Efurd’s nerve roots. Another root had a screw in it, and numerous screw holes were in incorrect areas of the woman’s spine.
Surgeon Mark Hoyle worked alongside Duntsch during only one of his surgeries, and stated it had gone so terribly, and was so bloody, it looked as if Duntsch was “fishing in a pond at night, saying he was working by feel, not sight.”
Philip Mayfield was one of the last of Duntsch’s victims. There isn’t a day he has woken up since 2013 without enduring excruciating pain. After his surgery, performed at the Frisco surgery center, Mayfield woke up and immediately thought, “What has he done to me? He’s left me to die.’” He was partially paralyzed and struck with a debilitating disease known as Suicide Disease. “It feels like my body’s on fire. I would describe it as a knife being stabbed down the spine,” he says.
Prosecutors in Efurd’s case referred to Duntsch and his hands as “deadly weapons”, claiming the doctor had “intentionally, knowingly and recklessly” performed such procedures time and again. Duntsch was sentenced to life in prison. Jurors in Efurd’s case were out only four hours before convicting Duntsch of a felony charge for hurting an elderly person, along with five counts of aggravated assault.
The Mayfields claim the justice system is stacked against them. Doctors often do not carry enough malpractice insurance, leaving those who have experienced horrifying situations without anywhere to seek help. The elderly, those retired and minors many times don’t have substantial damages because they aren’t employed. Therefore, their cases often don’t get filed. “If somebody has been the victim of horrific medical malpractice and they’re not a high earner, then they’re essentially denied access to the court system,” says Dallas attorney Chris Hamilton.
Much of the issues is due to Texas tort reform of 2003, which capped pain in suffering claims in in non-death cases at $250,000 each for the doctor, hospital and any other medical facility. A total cap of $750,000 was put into place. These caps did not increase over the years with inflation.
According to basic economics, that $250,000 cap should have been raised to $330,000 in 2017. There are also caps on death cases. These do rise with inflation, but come with hard caps at approximately $1.65 million. The alliance is funded by hospitals, doctors and other industry interest groups, and after it was passed, medical malpractice lawsuits dropped almost 60 percent.
The victims of Christopher Duntsch, however, are put into a uniquely unfortunate situation. “Pain and suffering is very subjective,” Brian Jackson, general counsel for the Texas Alliance for Patient Access, said. “The poor people that were victims of Dr. Duntsch were the victims of a criminal and it’s hard for a civil system to in any way to address that.” Victims like the Mayfields never had a chance to collect from Duntsch, who only had a $600,000 malpractice policy to begin with. They rightly feel robbed.